DMA’S: ‘UK fans are the kind of fans you want’

With new album, How Many Dreams?, arriving on 31 March, we speak to DMA’S guitarist Johnny Took about the Britpop tag bestowed on them, the development across their records so far, and a key ingredient of their success to date – as a band and as best mates.

DMA'S

They’ve had three top 40 UK albums, each one climbing higher than the last. They’ve sold out Ally Pally and given headline performances at Reading and Leeds. Even Liam Gallagher’s described them as “f***ing biblical”. If these attainments don’t give grounds to label DMA’S Australia’s most beloved band in the UK currently, little else will.

With new album, How Many Dreams?, arriving on 31 March, plus a new single out today, we speak to guitarist Johnny Took about the Britpop tag bestowed on them, the development across their records so far, and a key ingredient of their success to date – as a band and as best mates.


Johnny Took has a list of phrases on his phone under the heading ‘Lyrics that spark feeling’. Whenever a line comes up in his conversations that bears some kind of lyrical morsel, he writes it down – just as many of us would note down a film or artist recommendation.

This collection of sayings is exactly the kind of springboard from which a song can emerge for the three-piece rockers – one that can indeed spark feeling. As Johnny emphasises more than once, DMA’S is an egalitarian, three-way operation, also comprising Tommy O’Dell’s vocals and Matt Mason on guitar and backing vocals. The band’s music is derived and shaped by any three members of the band with equal merit. And it’s this special relations between the triad that’s led to the development of their distinctive sound.

DMA'S

Photo: Roman Jody

“Obviously everyone’s different – everyone puts in different amounts in every different band, so you can’t judge anyone else for what they choose,” Johnny tells me, as we chat in the bar of a swanky-ish West London hotel. “But for us, we’ve worked out that we all bring so much to this band. So we decided before we even had a manager that we were going to split everything three ways.

“It works because it means someone’s not just trying to get their idea over the line because they think they’re gonna get more money out of it or anything like that. They choose what’s best for the band, or what’s best for the song.

“And by the time it gets to the end – even if there was a song someone wrote by themselves – it’s like everyone’s had their hands on it. And that’s what makes it DMA’S. If one of us wasn’t in that process, it wouldn’t fucking be DMA’S.”

Johnny’s reference to the band as possessing some kind of distinctive quality – a DNA of DMA’S, as it were – is deserved. Since their debut studio album, Hills End, in February 2016, they’ve not only grown into one of Australia’s most beloved acts but have also developed a strong fanbase here in the UK.

“We’re still completely blown away by the response we get over here, and that the UK public have taken us under their wing,” Johnny says, when asked if the UK feels like a second home to down under. “Some of our most important fans are here; they love it and I feel like they’re the kind of fans you want.

“They’re those fans that when you have a foundation like that to a band, it’s more important than an expedient rise to success, like if you just had that one hit that went big. We’ve got this foundation, and you can feel it.”

Indeed, such a healthy, gradual UK love-in for DMA’S is there to see in the numbers. Hills End saw them achieve BRIT Certified Breakthrough status (awarded to artists who achieve 30,000 sales for an album for the first time in the UK), before reaching Silver status here toward the end of last year. Follow-up For Now, released in 2018, charted at 13 on the UK albums chart, whilst third album, 2020’s The Glow, climbed as high as fourth.

But numbers, of course, don’t tell the full story. Much of the band’s popularity on these shores has been propagated by their Britpop revivalist sound, with the inevitable comparison of Oasis and Blur’s freewheeling energy and lyricism, as well as a hazy, Madchester-influenced distortion à la The Stone Roses, which particularly comes through on their more dance-oriented third record.

DMA'S

Photo: Kalpesh Lathigra

Yet this wasn’t part of some master industry plan to achieve success in the UK (even if frontman Tommy has an enduring love for Everton football club). Johnny evidently has a huge respect for “the history of music in Britain – from The Beatles, The Stones, Queen, and the whole Britpop era – that has such a depth to it”, as well as “places like Manchester, arguably one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll music cities in the world.” In truth, though, like a lot of great things, Johnny says the trio “just did it because it sounded cool”. Often, that’s reason enough.

“When we were younger, and still now, Britpop culture and that stuff was a huge influence for us. But when I was a kid, I didn’t realise the depths of it; when I was 14, 15 and my mate handed me my first Stone Roses record, or an Oasis record, I didn’t understand it. So when we started writing in a Britpop kind of style, I didn’t really get how big it was, and the history. As we’ve come over here, I totally get it now.”

And yet, he adds astutely, with his Aussie drawl, “obviously that’s been a big part for us… it’s the really obvious answer to DMA’S, but it’s not the only answer. It’s like anything, there’s nuance… there’s a range of things going on, but I understand why that’s the first and easy comparison. And to be honest, it’s not a bad place to start.

“But like any artist, you don’t want to stay stagnant – well, we don’t. That’s one thing with The Glow: it was a step into a more modern direction and then once again now with our new record, How Many Dreams?, I feel like it’s still DMA’S, it’s still a rock record. Yes, there are some more pop and dance influences in there, but at the end of the day, there’s still a shitload of guitars on it and it’s just a modern rock album.”

Indeed, of the four tracks released so far ahead of How Many Dreams? – including the latest addition, ‘Fading Like A Picture’, out now – you get a sense of both the experimentation and desire to test new sonic waters, yet all with that distinct DMA’S aura coating each track.

‘Olympia’, for instance, is typical of a sweeping guitar rock that wouldn’t be out of place on the band’s first two records; ‘Everybody’s Saying Thursday’s The Weekend’ is an ode to embracing optimism (the title of which was inspired by a phone call Johnny had with a mate who was trying to entice him out for a pint); ‘I Don’t Need To Hide’, meanwhile, picks up where The Glows left off, pulsing with electro-tinged dance atmospherics that borders on euro-trance.

It’s the forthcoming album’s final two tracks that place the largest stress test on this theory, though – and which prove its validity. At the risk of giving an album equivalent of a spoiler, the penultimate track, ‘Something We’re Overcoming’, has a clear pop flavour, with a disco remix very feasible, whilst album closer ‘De Carle’ digs deep into a headrush of Underworld and Chemical Brothers-esque big beat.

As Stuart Price, one of three producers behind the record – along with Rich Costey and, back in Australia when the band wanted to rework some of the tunes, Konstantin Kersting – has previously described, whatever direction in genre they take, it “couldn’t not sound like DMA’S”. A theory Johnny feels a certain pride in hearing, when I relay the quote, from a producer whose credits include Dua Lipa, The Killers and Pet Shop Boys, to name a few.

“That [statement] really did resonate with me; it gave me a lot of confidence in the band as well. I thought he was totally right. There’s a style to our songwriting and even with a song like ‘De Carle’, which essentially only has electronic elements in, but still sounds very DMA’S – it couldn’t not.”

Part of the desire to express new iterations of their output comes from Johnny’s aforementioned drive to not be stagnant. “I talk about it a lot, but we really just don’t want to make the same album again and again. Every album is gonna be slightly different.

“I think [for How Many Dreams?] we were all searching for something a bit deeper and trying out more things. That isn’t to prove it to anyone else or anything like that, it’s just basically what we felt sounded and felt good. That’s essentially what we’ve always done.

“One thing I’m learning as I get older is that’s the only way you can do it. You’ve got to do it for yourself, and you’ve got to do it because you love it… As an artist, don’t try and make anyone else happy, just do what you feel is right.

DMA'S

“Have fun with it. And know that yes, the end result is important, but it’s not as important as what you learn on the journey of making it,” he adds like a rock star-cum-spiritual sage.

And as well as preserving a kind of early-day innocence, even as they approach four albums deep, there is a nod to one aspect of their development that certainly has evolved: their live shows. As Johnny explains, the opening, titular track on the upcoming album “was written purposefully as an opening track for a record.

“As I was making it,” he explains, “I was thinking, ‘Yeah, this is going to open the record.’ I would never think about that stuff before, I was just trying to write the best songs I could.”

There’s plenty of reason why such emphasis on live shows would be at the forefront of his lyric-writing. On DMA’S previous UK tour, the band sold an impressive 65,000 tickets, and would eventually follow a sold-out Alexandra Palace slot with main stage performances at Reading and Leeds – exactly the kind of British live music institutions that are befitting of their cathartic, Aussie-kissed Britpop euphoria.

“We love it, and we want to keep doing it,” Johnny says, matter-of-factly. “We don’t pretend we’re not ambitious – but it’s not our only driving force. As you get older, you start learning what’s important. Something we’ve learned is that we tour a lot, but we know each other’s personalities and limits; we know not to push each other to do anything they don’t want to do.

“If there’s a gig someone doesn’t feel like playing or they’ve got family stuff on, we don’t force each other to do it, because the most important thing for us is that we and our touring band are happy. I think that’s the stuff that’s gonna make DMA’S last. We’re not just doing it to earn a quick buck. It’s deeper than that. And each other’s feelings and mindsets and all that stuff is more important.

“I just want to keep playing great shows, keep writing music with my best mates. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say I love it when people come up to us and go, ‘Man, that song meant a lot to me, this got me through that’, which happens quite a bit, especially in the UK.

“I think that’s the most special part for me; where I just want to keep writing songs that make people feel that way, and that get them through things. Life is so hard for so many people, so if we can just keep writing music that’s going to assist and make that a bit easier for someone, then I’m chuffed.”

Frankly, Johnny’s notes on his phone couldn’t be more accurately labelled – as proven by the fans who thank DMA’S, particularly on these shores, for their lyrics and ultimately their tracks that do indeed spark feeling.

How Many Dreams? is out on 31 March via I OH YOU.

DMA’S new single, ‘Fading Like A Picture’ is out now.


Leave a Reply

More like this